Nothing feels better than an open road and the wind in your hair and what better place to do it than California. There is an endless array of sights and experiences to choose from and driving through this magnificent landscape and tailor making a fly-drive experience is all part of the fun and adventure.
We chose to see as much as we could over three weeks, our adventure taking us from San Francisco to Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite National Park, through Death Valley to Las Vegas before heading into to the home of Hollywood, Los Angeles. We finished our epic journey with a stunning coastal drive along the Big Sur, departing LA for Carmel and Monterey before arriving back where it all began, San Francisco.
Discovering San Francisco
Arriving in San Francisco for the first time, we chose to stay a few days and explore it now rather than at the end of our trip. We took in the waterfront area of Fisherman’s Wharf and enjoyed a seafood chowder in one of the many restaurants before enjoying an afternoon cocktail. We took a strenuous, but very much worthwhile, walk up Lombard Street, the world famous eight hairpin turn block. A must see for sea life lovers is the Aquarium of the Bay and no visit to San Francisco is complete without riding a cable car and a visit to Alcatraz, the island federal prison from 1934-1963. The audio guides here provide a wealth of information on the history of this historic monument but a tip is to book well in advance to avoid disappointment during peak seasons.
By night there are a multitude of restaurants and bars to fill your evenings but be sure to experience a stunning sunset cruise on the bay and take the time to wander through China Town.
Driving Yosemite National Park to Death Valley
Leaving San Francisco early to make the most of the scenic drive, we picked up our hire car and headed towards Yosemite National Park. On route we stopped at Mammoth Lake, a stunning mountain area at an elevation of 2,400 metres, with beautiful lakes and hot springs to visit. We were travelling at the end of Ski season, so arriving into Yosemite, there was still some snow on the ground and the Ski Lifts were still in action, so we could sit back and enjoy the stunning scenery, without the crowds.
The valley is open year-round for camping, hiking, and climbing or simply taking in your surroundings. Accommodation can range from basic camping to old style Ski lodges so there is something for everyone. From here we went up to Glacier Point for its spectacular views and photo opportunities of Yosemite’s valley, falls and high country.
Moving on, we drove through Death Valley en route to Las Vegas. Death Valley is North America’s lowest, driest and hottest area, sitting some 86 metres below sea level. Whilst the faster route to Vegas avoids Death Valley, we would highly recommend it for its amazing scenery from mountains to sand dunes, but the highlight was the open roads and endless horizons.
Las Vegas to Los Angeles
Las Vegas is everything you’d imagine and more. It is the city that never sleeps. It’s crazy and it’s quirky but this merely adds to its charm and excitement. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is only a gambling mecca either as there is so much more to it. Staying in a central hotel on the famous strip we were able to explore some of the other hotels such as the Venetian and Caesar’s Palace. Taking in a Vegas show is a must do as too is a hiring a car for the drive out to Hoover Dam, a concrete dam standing over 220 metres tall that you can tour inside or simply walk across and take in its enormity.
No trip to Vegas is complete without a trip to the Grand Canyon either by air or road but we would certainly recommend a plane or helicopter trip. We took a light plane over the valley and it truly was as spectacular as you imagine and definitely one to tick off the bucket list.
Driving onto Los Angeles is approximately four and a half hours and well worth stopping in for a few nights. We took a trip to Universal Studios, meandered around Venice Beach and the Walk of Fame as well as visiting Mann’s Chinese Theatre, or Graumans Chinese Theatre as it is still commonly known. From the Getty Centre to Santa Monica Bay there is something for everyone in Los Angeles.
The beauty of The Big Sur
The final part of our epic journey was the scenic coastal drive north out of Los Angeles along part of the Big Sur. To make the most of the drive an overnight stop in Carmel or Monterey is well worthwhile. En route is Hearst Castle, which is slightly inland but definitely worth leaving LA early for to make time to visit. The castle was once the home of the late newspaper magnet William Randolf Hearst and now an historical monument. During its heyday in the 1920’s and 30’s Mr Hearst used to entertain the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo and the Marx brothers to name but a few. The European Architecture is just stunning and it is worth taking in a tour if you can to hear the colourful history.
Stopping overnight at the charming Carmel, we simply took in the amazing coastal views and relaxed at Monterey Bay to spot sea lions frolicking in the ocean. This is a delightful area to relax and wind down after your long drive and take in the surroundings, before heading back to San Francisco to end your journey.
California is fly-drive heaven so whether you have a week or a month it is easy to tailor a trip and capture the best it has to offer.
Check out some pictures of USA in our World Images Gallery HERE.